Feature Article: Willard Hyatt's Genealogy Puzzler

In researching Willard O. Hyatt's genealogy, I quickly found this entry for his tombstone.


Montage showing Willard Hyatt's tombstone and death certificate. Credit: FamilySearch – partner site Find-a-Grave.

Great – that is my target Willard O. Hyatt. He was born in Burlington, Calhoun County, Michigan, and I knew that he died there. I could see by his tombstone that he died in 1934.

Armed with this initial tombstone information it was time to dig deeper.

By pulling his entries in the U.S. census, his death certificate, and other records, we can begin to piece together the facts of his life.

I next found his death certificate.

Hmm..."Houston, we have a problem."

His date of death in the death certificate is not agreeing with the date carved on his tombstone.

I looked in the old newspapers in GenealogyBank's Historical Newspaper Archives to see if I could find out more about this discrepancy – and uncovered an unusual story.


Heraldo de Brownsville (Brownsville, Texas), 4 November 1937, page 9

This article in the Heraldo de Brownsville newspaper gives us the rest of Willard's story, telling us why he decided to commission his own gravestone so many years before his death – and why it has the wrong date.

Willard figured that since both of his parents – Thomas Hyatt (1806-1887) and Mary Ann (Odell) Hyatt (1811-1891) – died at age 80, he too would die at 80 years of age.

So in 1906 – 18 years before his projected date of death – he bought a tombstone and had the carver enter his life dates as he expected them to be: 1854-1934, when he would be 80 years old.

But as things turned out, it was another 10 years before Willard finally passed away – on the 28th of October 1944.

Genealogy Tip: Dig deep and find every supporting genealogical document. Go beyond census and vital records in your genealogy research. Be sure to search the old newspapers – that's where the stories of our ancestors are.

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